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Forthwith and Away #1

75 Books Challenge for 2019

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Dec 31, 2018, 8:28pm Top

Like an annoying wac-a-mole I cannot be deterred.

Although I made it through 100 in 2018 (barely) other than a 75 book minimum goal I am not setting a certain number of books for 2019.

I hope to work through my TBR list of America's 100 Best Books Franklin Mint Bicentennial classics, some Noble Prize Library works, Trollope, Folio Society, Peirene Press, Slightly Foxed, Pushkin Press, Thornwillow and who knows what. I get easily bored so keep moving through a variety of sources and types. Whether it is available in a fine press hardcopy, Kindle or Audible is not so important. Big issues like Immigration/Brexit, Climate Change, and Trump misconduct can mix into making up time with a classic TBR read.

There is always time for reading between traveling, attending concerts, films, streaming Netflix, Amazon Prime with HBO, Acorn, Britbox, PBS Passport, Broadway HD, Sling with Showtime, The Great Courses Plus, History Hit, and reading The New Yorker, New York Review of Books, BBC History, BBC World History, History Today, The Atlantic Monthly The New York Times, The Washington Post and quiet reflection.

Now tomorrow on to Anthony Everitt's Hadrian. There is another wall to consider!

Dec 31, 2018, 8:29pm Top

Good luck with your reading goals in 2019!

Dec 31, 2018, 8:46pm Top

Welcome back!

Jan 1, 2019, 6:51am Top

Happy reading in 2019, Michael!

Jan 1, 2019, 10:56am Top

Happy New Year!

Jan 2, 2019, 6:11pm Top

>2 alcottacre:
>3 drneutron:
>4 FAMeulstee:
>5 The_Hibernator:
Thank you all for the well wishes and welcome.

One month ago we welcomed our newest family addition, our first granddaughter.


I am really enjoying reading Anthony Everitt. More later.
Maybe, I should be reading child care books instead!

Jan 3, 2019, 7:53pm Top

Ta Da, Drumroll please: #1 Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome by Anthony Everitt

I really enjoyed carefully reading every word. It is obviously a contemporary look that builds on a comfortable pace the complex (could we be surprised) character of the great Roman Emperor Hadrian.

He of the Wall fame arrived in Britannia probably after the wall had been built. It was just one part of his strategy of giving up bits of conquered territory that was too expensive to maintain. Instead of the relentless expansion of territory, he took the not so popular position that the emphasis should be on maintaining the land that makes sense. The size of the Roman Empire became too unwieldy and he took the courage to shift the strategy. this was not the way to become popular with the Senate that relished cheering every gain in territory. In the Senate, they did not have to travel, even with the legendary Roman roads, vast distances.

Hadrian was a lifelong enthusiast of everything Greek. There was even some suspicion that his many travels were to avoid spending much time in Rome itself. Actually he built the still solidly standing Pantheon in Rome. If you ever visit Rome, this is the one building to enter. It is now used as a Christian Church and the repurposing is painful to see.

A Roman Emperor that seemed put upon and even likeable is quite an achievement by this writer. This book is one way to feel that you have known an Emperor. The author probably makes his presence felt just a tad much though.

I have his Cicero in my TBR list and need to pull and read it this year.

Jan 4, 2019, 7:11am Top

>7 Forthwith: Good review, Michael, I will look for this book.

Jan 4, 2019, 8:13pm Top

Happy 2019
A year full of books
A year full of friends
A year full of all your wishes realised

I look forward to keeping up with you, Michael, this year.

Jan 5, 2019, 2:14am Top

>7 Forthwith: An intriguing subject and a tempting review. Thanks for that!

Jan 8, 2019, 6:10pm Top

>10 richardderus: You are quite welcome. The author is more from the humanities than an academic historian so he tucks his sources discreetly away in the back.

2. 21 Lessons For the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

Well, I decided to join rather than fight the trend. I finally read this book joining Bill Gates and millions of others. Maybe, I will now be invited to Davos!

Most found it quite shocking to their cherished and widely held "stories." He takes apart the search for meaning through religions, nationalism and the many cultures and endless numbers of subcultures. Then he bows out and meditates.

This book addresses the present unlike Sapiens that looked at our history as a species (he is an historian after all) and Homo Deus that supposes our future. Addressing our present is quite a risk since new paradigms are presented nearly daily at least in part as distractions. A fast moving object is harder to hit, I suppose.

The writer is on an almost constant tour and active on social media. He urges scientists to engage more with the public so he is doing his part. The 21 questions are a compilation from interviewers and questioners and anyone who has heard him speak and by now that number is small, will find some of this repetitive. He again and again tells us that biotech and AI are going to give us a run for our control. If those references were removed, this would be a much shorter book.

He is weakest when he looks at geo-politics. The resurgence of the EU West was apparently in isolation of the Marshall Plan. Indeed other than the bowing down to Google, less so for Facebook and heads bowed again for Apple, the US is an intruder on the center of history, the EU.

I was prepared for him. After being indoctrinated in behaviorism in a lab without outside windows but many two-way internal windows, we were training our rats while being the real rats under observation. An emersion in the B. F. Skinner world included his vilified book Beyond Freedom and Dignity so I have been down this avenue before. I have a transcript of the Firing Line program with Mr. Buckley and guest B. F. Skinner.

Additional preparation was in the corporate world at a company tracked by and advised by Tom Peters and Alvin Toffler. Future Shock and the Third Wave were good introductions. I am well trained to dread the future. Mr. Toffler was the first speaker that I heard who came from the back of the auditorium for effect and walked upon the stage as though he was just stopping by. He was.

I listened to Sapiens on an audio while exercising and will go back and read the text this year. I will have to find another audio book to burn off those calories. If you are interested Harari has posted a series of free guides to his thinking on YouTube.

He is defining the conversation.

Jan 12, 2019, 2:41pm Top

3. Queen of Scotts by John Guy

We recently have been on a sort of Golden Globes film and television binge. Generally, I favor the non-format television format which gives extensive creative book-like depth. We just finished Escape at Danemora which was an excellent example of depth of character.

Anyway, one of the films that is still playing is Mary Queen of Scotts. We saw it the day before seeing The Favorite which had a robust promotion campaign. The Queen of Scotts film was more revealing if a bit less entertaining. It presented her life through her own viewpoint. Usually we are presented with her character through the English prism as a stock character. Although the key scene of the meeting with Elizabeth that did not actually occur was a fair piece of showing their relationship. Generally, the film was from a perspective that we rarely see and generally just doesn't seem entirely plausible.

So we always stay through the final credits and look for details such as location but less so with the named insurance agency used. I wanted to see what basis that they based the screenplay on. It was this book by John Guy. I had to read it. There was obviously more that a single film length could not reveal. This would have filled a television limited series but the film condensed the book with cinematic skill.

I found that the research in the book was extensive. Much of it had not been revealed in book form before. He relied on original sources as much as possible by eyewitnesses. He presents a full person around other fully developed people. She and others were intelligent and not the usual cardboard cutouts.

This would be an excellent step off for those who love historical fiction to delve in deeply researched history. It is like an Allison Weir or Hillary Mantel historical fiction with intriguing stories. This book deserves greater attention.

Jan 16, 2019, 8:32pm Top

It all comes together. It is like a memorable walk with all of the right pauses.

4. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

This is an all absorbing experience. Do not try to listen while driving or with any distraction. This will absorb all of your attentions. The language, characters and atmosphere render a plot unnecessary. I listened to the audio book read by Colin Firth. The combination of Firth and Greene is genius.

She talked to me as a human and not an author.

Jan 16, 2019, 9:08pm Top

>13 Forthwith: One of my favorite Greene novels. A treat that never stops being delicious.

Jan 17, 2019, 6:08am Top

>14 richardderus: You might even try a "reread" with the Firth reading - most enjoyable.

Jan 17, 2019, 10:27am Top

>15 Forthwith: I'll keep it in reserve for my next book slump. Thanks.

Jan 20, 2019, 7:41am Top

Wishing you a great Sunday, Michael.

Edited: Jan 21, 2019, 6:05pm Top

>17 PaulCranswick: Thank You Paul. I tried to listen in your direction about midnight last night for a howl. That moon deserved a good one.

5. The Unhappiness of Being a Single Man: Essential Stories by Franz Kafka

I spent an afternoon listening to Horowitz's self proclaimed best vinyl recordings on the Franklin Mint collection while reading some Kafka.

Why not the best?

Jan 27, 2019, 3:55pm Top

6. Night by Elie Wiesel

On Holocaust Remembrance Day recognizing the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I listened to the audio recording of this landmark publication.

I have heard the story of Eva Kor from her own words as she sat beside me in her CANDLES Museum. She was one of the twins experimented on by Dr. Death himself. There is a remarkable documentary of her life "Eva" which I saw at the premier. Here is a link to a Google Talk with Eva and the Director.


I also visited "Elizabeth" several years ago who showed me her number forced into her wrist as a young child. She and her mother (with a number on her ankle) installed a large wire fence with tall bushes around their home guarded by no-nonsense guard dogs. Her father alone went out to the grocery. They stayed in their home waiting for the Nazis to return.

Never forget

Edited: Feb 4, 2019, 1:51pm Top

Well, since it has been a bit cold outside for a few days -

7. Babette's Feast by Isak Dinesen
I listened to this as read by Colleen Dewhurst. The reading is dramatic but it sounds like it was called in over the phone.

The book differs from the film and is not as challenging for vegans. So I learned that they really mean it when they prepare turtle soup.

A fine meal can indeed stimulate reflection and a kind of truth. I prefer spaghetti.

8. Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh

I very much was entertained by this Michael Maloney reading. He used many distinctive voices for the characters. It fulfills the LOL abbreviation. This was much better than the television series with Jack Whitehall. He is talented but gets miscast sometimes.

9. Help: Comedy, Tragedy, Therapy by Simon Amstell

If you are looking for an alternative to Woody Allen, here he is. He also plays himself on "Grandma's House" and his stand-up and interviews. I wonder what Evelyn Waugh would think?

I read this in the Kindle version.

10. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

He also wrote this early and while he went through his bitter divorce. Like Decline and Fall, he leaves no one at rest.

I read this in a beautiful edition with illustrations by Kate Baylay.

Edited: Feb 2, 2019, 6:32pm Top

11. The Death of Truth by Michiko Kakutani

Of the many books in the past year or so, this is by far the best to analyze the present dangers in western democracy. As a former New York Times book reporter, this effectively uses literature to build the case of the destructive erosion of objective truth.

I cannot recommend this more strongly.

Feb 2, 2019, 6:32pm Top

12. Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh, and L. A. By Eve Babitz

Oh well. I had to keep reminding myself that this was published by The New York Review Books.

Feb 5, 2019, 5:53pm Top

Have you ever passed frequently over a name in your readings and just never took the time to look further? The name of Hannah Arendt seems to be used more now in reference to our discussions of the state of democracy in the western world. Trump and Brexit are to me are nightmare inducing literally. You may have even seen Arendt's name in the title of a respected documentary (now available for a fee on Amazon Prime).

I decided to rectify my ignorance about this lady. Amazon has commissioned a good quality series of books called Amazon Icons. These are even available for lending on their Amazon Unlimited service which I took advantage of. After I read the following book, I traded it for the book on St. Paul by the wonderful thoughtful writer Karen Armstrong.

13. Hannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times by Anne C. Heller

I took a chance on this but found it to be a very intriguing book. It certainly filled out the remarkable life of this most fascinating woman. In some ways, she may be one of the most interesting people in the century. Her personal and intellectual history is deep, dark and conflicting as are the times in which she lived.

She lived in Berlin and fled to Paris but not until being arrested after the notorious Reichstag burning. As a Jew, she was taken to Gurs in France with other Jewish women. When France surrendered to Germany she was able to flee and later gain passage through Portugal to the United States. Later Gurs captives were transferred to Auschwitz. She later learned of the horrors inflicted through Adolf Eichmann. She attended his trial and reported on it in The New Yorker. She coined the term "banality of evil." She found him to be a dull man behind a desk that committed unspeakable evil. She was widely (and still) criticized for her conflicting description of Eichmann and passivity of some Jewish leaders earlier. Did she have her own self hate or internal conflict?

In 1995 it was revealed that she not only was mentored by the German and later Nazi academic Professor, Martin Heidegger, but in fact had an ongoing affair with him. He took great efforts at keeping this hidden and showed a coldness to her until many years later.

I have acquired her Eichmann in Jerusalem" and some other writings to read. "The Origins of Totalitarianism" is being picked up and consulted anew.

"Everything was possible and nothing was true."

On an different medium note, if you have any interest in our collective history you need to see the new WWI film "They Shall Not Grow Old" by Director Peter Jackson. Also stay for the 30 minute section following the film on the making of the movie. The battle section is intense so be forewarned. Paraphrasing Walter Cronkite that is the way that it was. You may never forget those faces.

Feb 8, 2019, 10:20pm Top

>23 Forthwith: I am sure that the book on Ms. Arendt is fascinating and I do want to read more by her, Michael.

I will look out for the WW1 film too as it is an area of great interest for me.

Feb 8, 2019, 10:29pm Top

>23 Forthwith: Eichmann in Jerusalem was, for me, a life-changing read. It is so very horrifying, and all true. We have met the enemy and he is us, as Pogo said.

Feb 11, 2019, 12:17pm Top

>24 PaulCranswick: Paul that film is now playing in general release. Let me know what you think of it. You may not be able to forget those faces of the soldiers. The film really brings home the terrible experience.

>25 richardderus: I need to read that. It was a turning point for Ms. Arendt. Originally it was a series of articles in The New Yorker. It is referenced in the book that I read a good bit. The author is also a New Yorker writer.

Feb 16, 2019, 5:58pm Top

I finished it. At least I don't have to read another of an endless reference to the old middle class house plant, the aspidistra. It was a punch line that wore me out the second time alone.

14. Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell

Did I tell you about the aspidistra?

Orwell wrote this a bit after trying to live the life of poverty in London and Paris. He even worked in a second hand bookstore as the book's hero, Gordon Comstock.

Comstock could not take the absurdity of writing advertising copy another day. I can understand that even without having seen many Madman episodes.

He walked out and declared his disgust with consumers and the lower middle class and their empty cravings for things. He even declared a war on money. Why should write jingles when he could write poetry instead, he thought.

He was befriended by a Marxist friend and publisher of a periodical. This friend could afford to renounce money because he received an annual income that was comfortable. He even published monochrOmatic's poems. His friend was not forceful but weakly offered to at least pay for an occasional meal. Comstock would rather do without although he "borrowed" from his long suffering sister. Comstock was educated as his older sister was neglected. After all,our lead character was the Comstock who was.most likely to succeed.

Money wins. Is that a surprise?

Someway a film was made called "The Merry War" in the US release. I will have to put my eyes on it on Amazon.I see that it is described as a comedy?

Orwell regretted releasing the book but he needed the money at that time. It was tiring but, like many others, I was looking at the development of the great writer. I hope to get to his Catalonian book yet this year although Animal Farm is more tedious than seeing the word aspidistra one more time.

Feb 16, 2019, 11:02pm Top

I know that this is a site about books but there is a film now streaming on Showtime that readers should find of special interest. It is a 2018 film simply called "Mary Shelley."

The story as presented is dramatized but allowing some creative fteedom, it presents an interpretation worthy of the subjects.

I have no connections with any works cheeseburger than as a reader or viewer.

Feb 19, 2019, 1:38pm Top

15. The Library Book by Susan Orlean

This was in the New York Times list of the best books of 2018. It focuses on the history and personalities of the L A public library system. Each chapter reads like an essay on aspects of the library with the library fire as a recurring theme. It is a bit dry at first but picks up quite a bit and certainly kept my interest. At 311 pages, it seemed to go by fast.

Anyone interested in libraries will find this of great interest. The author is a writer for The New Yorker so she knows how to write well.

Feb 26, 2019, 10:27pm Top

16. Madame De by Louise De Vilmorin

This is an aristocratic work much derived from the lifestyle of the author. She was towering over her work and very much present.

Her own life was fascinating. In the afterword, the acclaimed historian John Julius Norwich wrote of his affection of her when he was in his teen years. In fact, the author was a mistress of his ambassador father and yet grand friend with his knowing mother.

This book was made into a film but the life of the author might make a sophisticated mini-series. Reading about the author was more interesting than the book.

Mar 2, 2019, 2:29pm Top

Like,I suspect,some of you my To Be Read list is growing. This is an age of accessibility to some of the finest writing. It is so easy to read an article or review of a book or discussion with an author and then in just a couple of clicks obtain the text in electronic form. A visit to a bookstore presents tables of books otherwise not anticipated by the browser. The temptations can be overwhelming. We need to have it. There will always be time to read it. Another compulsion is to buy the author a drink by making a purchase. Why not?

Choosing what book to read next is sometimes quite a dilemma. It takes time. Should we go for the sure thing like a David McCullough book or venture into the unknown? At least, a luxury is to have more than one book going at a time.

Now, I am about 1/3 of the way through the grim but compelling "Berlin Alexanderplatz" fiction recommended by David Bowie and starting a new intriguing non-fiction adventure with Volker Weidermann's "Dreamers: When Writers Took Power Germany, 1919." Who can resist the lived time in Berlin in the 1920s in the first book made by Fassbinder into an epic 15 hour film or who can resist the second book with this description on the flyleaf:

"Munich, 1918: in the final days of the First World War, revolutionaries open the doors of military prisons, occupy official buildings and overthrow the monarchy. At the head of the newly declared Free State of Bavaria is journalist and theatre critic Kurt Eisner, and around him rally luminaries of German cultural history: Thomas Mann, Ernest Toller and Rainer Maria Rilke."

This second book was released in German in 2018 and translated in English a few months ago by Ruth Martin.

But what about the many others on the list? How can I have the time for this and yet finish watching the third season of True Detective and clean the garage?

Mar 11, 2019, 3:58pm Top

17. The Time Travelers Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer

This was "read" as an audio book of just under 18 hours. It is not as well known as his Medieval Guide that I have not read to compare. This book, though can well stand on its own. It might be better to have in print to at first scan by topic and then keep as a reference for reading works of the period. It captures amazing details about life in the period. What was it really like in the classes of the time?

If you watch the so called period costume dramas on programs like Masterpiece Theater take a look at this first. You may not see those programs quite the same again. Oh, did I mention the glory and the hardships? He tells us that we cannot understand an age without learning about the contradictions and there were certainly divisions of this time.

Climb aboard with Drake. You may not be able to stand up. Was he a madman or a product of his time?

18. Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis

This was his first published major work at age 21. He had several rewrites and it somewhat came from his own diary. Actually, I liked it and found it to express the time and passive character of our lead character quite well. His later book with these people at middle age did not do too well although I have not read it myself. The audio book has an interview with the author and well known writer and editor, James Atlas that was interesting. The reading by Christian Rummel added much to the dialog. He wonderfully reflected the attitude. I appreciated the references to bands of the time but tired of the repeated naming of MTV instead of just simply saying TV but I assume that it was for effect. The naming of the cars was too obvious and tiring.

Warning: The violence is brief but disturbing. I have avoided American Psycho for that reason.

One of the best lines was "I don't do enough things to keep a date book." The novel covered a summer back home in LA from a Vermont college.

I too am afraid to merge in LA. I don't even like to drive at all there.

19. Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Doblin

This was a favorite of David Bowie while he lived in Berlin. It is a seamy story with a violent streak. The translation was the second one done. It must have been very difficult to translate the slang and yet keep some authentic voice.

20. St. Paul: The Apostle We Love to Hate by Karen Armstrong

She does not waste time. She gets right into his story and keeps the momentum going. Her specialty and scholarship has revolved around ST. Paul and he has clearly inspired and excited her. She acts as his contemporary defender. She says that only about seven of his Letters were written by him. Others were composed years after his death. You need to accept or at least suspend skepticism while reading this since a lot of assumptions arise. She debunks modern perceptions of him and wants us to accept him as a kind of gender equality champion.

St. Paul tried to play down the obsession with circumcision, she tells us, to attract Gentiles to this new religion.

I also did this as an audio book since she read it herself. You may think that Theresa May is reading it but don't let that stop you.

21. Remembering Roth by James Atlas

This is conversational and informal in tone with a light structure. To me it raises the question of whether a writer can ever be at the level of Phillip Roth and also be a friend. James Atlas can consider himself as being a friend toward Roth but the reassurance of a return of warm feelings is based on a smile.

22. Dreamers: When the Writers Took Power: Germany 1918 by Volker Weidermann

This is a kind of collegial insider look at the personalities of Eisner, Thomas Mann, Rilke and others as they found themselves trying to react and lead at the same time to the Post WWI German disintegration as a former art student lurked about. They clearly were not able to fill the shoes of expectations that they stumbled upon. The author is the cultural Editor of Der Spiegel and the Pushkin Press does a service by providing this new English translation of the book written originally in German in 2017.

Now onto a new look at the latest known on Van Gogh.

Mar 14, 2019, 5:57pm Top

23. Van Gogh: A Power Seething by Julien Bell

When I saw that this was an Amazon produced book in their own series, I was somewhat conflicted. Having just finished the deeply researched and first class Karen Armstrong book in the series about St. Paul, this was a series to take seriously. These are even available for no charge in their exchange.

I recall seeing a small simple block add in the back of The Atlantic Monthly advertising a wide array of books available for ordering. Not being satisfied with missing so many books in the limited local shops, I watched their progress with interest. How could they have so any books available? Would they have the recently published books? That was before they revolutionized book access with the Kindle. I immediately ordered a Kindle and am on the sixth Kindle Fire now. How would this affect the writer and publishers? How will a reader ever locate a book from the pleasure of browsing?

Anyway, I bit in a big way through the Kindle and Audible. I have no affiliation with Amazon in any way. I still buy and collect finely printed books made in the traditional way. I do not see this as a forced binary choice at all.

So, what do we have here? Again a serious book about the endlessly fascinating Vincent Van Gogh. I was apprehensive that it may contain many inside the art world descriptions of technique or descriptions of styles but those are few. The narrative moves carefully through the life of this troubled man. His letters reveal a gift for the written description as well as his finally acknowledged talent as an artist. The story has been told before but it still is moving when hearing some of his own words from those letters to his brother. Vincent is the kind of family member that no family wants to support forever. The distance of time can give us compassion for him but without that distance he would have been an exasperating family member.

Can we separate the artist from the art or should we?

Mar 18, 2019, 12:28am Top

24. The Elephant in the Room by Job Ronson

This sort of gonzo journalist got into the secret Bohemian Grove with nine other than Alex Jones. Just that makes him a legend.

He describes his impressions of Jones, Roger Stone and mentions of Paul Manafort. Your President is listening to these people.

Mar 19, 2019, 2:57pm Top

25. Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Garden Keefe

As the title indicates this is a non-fiction account that uses the very personal stories of those involved in the "troubles." The stories are gripping and compelling. The writing is so good that a comparison with Capote's "In Cold Blood" is in order. This guy s one of the best books that I have read in some time.
Highly Recommended

Mar 29, 2019, 1:24am Top

26. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

This is the comprehensive argument for atheism from the biological evolutional science perspective. It intends to bring converts to these ideas about rejecting religion. The arguments are compelling but a bit in your face forceful. The intent may be actually softened by the aggressive approach.

27. Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine by Barry Strauss

This starts with Augustus and concludes with Constantine. It makes an effort to include the role of women and emphasizes Livia. The author denies any supposition that Livia resorted to poisoning anyone. Other rumors of behavior by Caligula even are deemed doubtful. Suetonius is not taken as seriously as more contemporary politically correct and modern acceptable views. The language and flow is quite clear but it reads like a collection of Wikipedia articles.

28. Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic by Tom Holland

The author is a kind of pop figure with his frequent tweets, social media presence and like Mary Beard and a few other classicists his television presence. He is one of the British public intellectuals who shares his views on many contemporary issues. He is a popular presence on Dan Snow's History Hit streaming service.
The book is unquestionably written for a current audience and is accessible but does not shy away from a viewpoint that may be controversial but informed. I read it in a beautifully produced Folio Society edition. I intent to add his companion Folio Society book on the Persians to my to be read list.

Mar 31, 2019, 1:47pm Top

29. The Colosseum by Keith Hopkins and Mary Beard

So what should we think when we visit this relic of the Roman Empire? Starting with the impressions of Lord Byron to a Victorian travel guide we are challenged to reflect on what we are seeing. Then, we are told that we know more about this than we might have thought. Using research into individuals involved, we learn that gladiators lived just over 22 years. 48 was the average for other males. It seems that the gladiator probably had two fights a year. From a small sample size it shows a 13% loss of life from a set of fights.
Stay in school.

Apr 2, 2019, 7:11pm Top

Read these just for the pleasure of the writing.

30. I Was Jack Mortimer by Alexander Lernet-Holenia

This is an early noir book that should suit the fans of that film genre just fine. Don't worry too much about the not always plausible plot and just let the writer take you on a ride. This is a pre-WWII German atmospheric tale from Munich. Two films have been made from the book although I have seen neither. The book was begging to be filmed.

31. Rilke in Paris by Rainer Maria Rilke and Maurice Betz

If you have spent time in Paris, you can pick this up and revisit. As with the above book, the atmosphere dominates but in this one it wraps around beautiful thoughtful language of the fine poet. If you haven't yet been to Paris, catch the next flight. The Yellow Jackets may be new but the contrasts are not.

Actually, one of my favorite quotes is in the introduction nicely written by Will Stone who also served as the translator. When the poet Rilke described the sculptor Rodin, Rilke observed that fame is "the collection of misunderstandings that collect around a name."


We enjoyed a nice few days at Georgia's Callaway Gardens and taking in FDR's Little White House in Warm Springs and wonderful southern food at the Lodge & Spa at Callaway Gardens and The Bolloch Restaurant in Warm Springs GA where you will never find better fried green tomatoes, the Rippavilla Plantation mansion (get the fried chicken and corn soufflé) in Spring Villa, Tennessee and the Bell Buckle Café in Bell Buckle, Tennessee where generations of country western musicians have played. I am finally liking corn bread!

Apr 7, 2019, 6:12am Top

>36 Forthwith: Glad to see that Tom Holland made a generally favourable impression, Michael.

Have a great Sunday.

Apr 9, 2019, 6:59pm Top

>36 Forthwith: Yes, Holland is a favorite and I have another one in the tbr stack.

32. The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt

Greenberg is a great speaker as well as author. You may have seen or heard him commenting on Shakespeare.

I am late to the game. I have had the first edition of this book for some time but finally took up the audio version. There is not a dull section in this passionate humanist book.

Apr 10, 2019, 4:30pm Top

33. My Dearest Julia: The Letters of Ulysses S. Grant To His Wife by Ulysses S. Grant

This is a wonderful Library of America collection of more than 80 letters as the title describes. The letters from Julia have not survived. The early Grant longs for more letters from his beloved. During the first four years while they were engaged, they could only meet once. He frequently wanted approval from Julia's parents who were unconvinced about her marrying a soldier. The Grants were also concerned because Julia was a slave holder even at the start of the civil war and her father was sympathetic to the Southern cause.

Grant was solid and cool under battle but his passion is revealed in these letters even with the restraint toward his wife.

Apr 12, 2019, 12:42am Top

Whitman Pictures at an Exhibition

34. With Walt Whitman, Himself: In the Nineteenth Century in America by Jean Huets

I am tired. I feel like I just visited an imaginary major museum exhibition for the past two days. Don't get me wrong. It was a fine and interesting imagined exhibit. I have this exhibition styled catalog to show for it with every picture and word!

It was about the life and times of Walt Whitman. An early exhibit window had a photograph of Whitman's phrenologists. Yes, the exhibition is that well researched. It even shows the findings by the bumps on various parts of his head. Yes, he apparently did believe. That's understandable for the times and he was of and about those 19th century Brooklyn times.

Each display window features interesting paintings and many photographs. In all, the illustrations number more than 300. A generous number of Whitman and other figures of his time are also represented with quotes. This exhibition has panels (pages) and chapters by subject matter that is not necessarily in time sequence. Understandably, quotes from "The Leaves of Grass" are too good and personal to wait for anyway. The section on the transcendentalists was a highlight for me.

A strong case could be made that Whitman is America's poet. He certainly deeply loved his country but the country's love was not returned in kind. He knowingly threw conventionality out the window in favor of originality.

Apr 12, 2019, 4:39pm Top

"Precision and brevity are the most important qualities of prose. Prose demands thoughts and more thoughts - without thoughts, dazzling expressions serve no purpose."
Alexander Pushkin, 1822

Even Pushkin of whom it is said to be Russia's foremost poet, he also took on prose. A collection of his prose runs over 500 pages.

35. A Short Life of Pushkin by Robert Chandler

This is appropriately reissued under this title by The Pushkin Press. It was originally part of The Brief Lives series, which was edited, as I recall, by James Atlas. I had read several of those which usually were a bit under 200 pages generally. The series selected various writers creatively to take on these biographies. This present version runs 152 pages.

In this case the author chosen is a translator of such diverse writers of even Sappho.

Apr 17, 2019, 9:23am Top

36. Walt Whitman Speaks: His Final Thoughts on Life, Writing, Spirituality, and the Promise of America as Told to Horace Traubel Edited by Brenda Wineapple

If you are interested in the thoughts of Walt Whitman, I recommend this new book from The Library of America. Traubel as a young man visited Whitman nearly every day on the way home from his bank clerk job and wrote detailed shorthand notes of their conversations. It resulted in nine volumes with some published after Traubel's own death by his daughter.

Whitman had his opinions especially about other writers.

Apr 19, 2019, 12:15pm Top

So there you are. I finally located my Folio copy of Volume II interestingly behind the Folio Limited Edition of The Decameron housed in that large sarcophagus. Was this a message from an yet unknown devil or was a protective angel at work?

37. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume II by Edward Gibbon

This is the often republished Folio Society edition, 12th edition, in my case, that was published in eight volumes as opposed to the original six volumes. To be clear, this contains the threatening 16th Chapter "The Conduct of the Roman Government Towards the Christians, From the Reign of Nero to that of Constantine" and covers chapters 13-20. This Chapter actually was originally the final chapter of the original publication. It ended that first volume with a lookout here we go, I am really going to do this approach.

As it states elegantly in the introduction, upon the publication of this first volume, David Hume wrote this to Gibbon:
“But, amongst many other marks of decline, the prevalence of superstition in England prognosticates the fall of philosophy and decay of taste; and, though nobody be more capable than you to revive them, you will probably find a struggle in your first advances.”

With this present arrangement the initial volume chapters praising Diocletian (systematic persecutor of Christians or was it more of struggles between sects?) and then ending with Chapter 20 "The Motives, Progress, and Effects of the Conversion of Constantine - Legal Establishment and Constitution of the Christian or Catholic Church" will not be a best-seller at your local Christian bookstore.

Within this Folio volume selection context, the praise of Diocletian does evoke some suspicion of prejudice.

When the original volume was published Gibbon rightly complained that the British
Museum lacked a proper library. "The greatest city in the world is still destitute of that useful institution, a public library." That happily has been addressed.

I could go on but won't.

Apr 19, 2019, 12:30pm Top

>40 Forthwith: One of my very, very favorite nonfiction reads. I'm glad you enjoyed it as well, Michael.

>42 Forthwith: I got this book from the Early Reviewers program and need to get into it soon. Very beautifully made, no?

Apr 19, 2019, 4:11pm Top

>46 richardderus: Yes, I enjoyed The Swerve more than I thought that I would. I had bought the first edition when it came out and finally got around to reading it. It has been difficult lately with so many new books added to my still to read classics.

There are one or more illustrations on nearly every page of the Whitman book. I liked the breadth of the book that included so much of his surroundings. You might want to take a look at the other Whitman book in post #44 above.

Apr 20, 2019, 6:31pm Top

>47 Forthwith: As I type, >44 Forthwith: glowers down at me from my "sinful indulgences" shelf...hardcovers I've bought despite not really being able to afford them...awaiting my crippled-up hands having a good day so I can hold it to read.

Apr 20, 2019, 9:23pm Top

>48 richardderus: You know that those To Be Read piles have me seeking out justification for buying any book while I still have a long way to go to read what I have. At least, lately the new books are interesting enough to be more than tempting. You might try the Audible version sometimes. Those work especially well with a Kindle that you can stand up without being held or even caressed like a Signed Limited Edition. They have not found a way though to bring forth that wonderful smell from a fine book.

The book in Post 44 is very small for a LOA book running just under 200 small pages. They got us there.

38. Shortest Way Home: One Mayor's Challenge and a Model for America's Future by Pete Buttigieg

Yes, he wrote this without the aid of ghost or speechwriters. He also still writes his own speeches. Mayor Pete is one interesting high achieving guy. The book's title comes from a James Joyce quote: "Think you're escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home." He uses this to start Section VI of his book.

This is not exactly Thomas Jefferson but compared to T**** he is almost the exact opposite. Comparisons to Obama have some credibility but Buttigieg is a lot smarter. I feared that he would be a data driven Robert McNamara but he is well aware of that caution. Coming from McKinsey, he gives a lot of weight to serious analysis and expertise. I don't think that Ivanka would be part of the Buttigieg cabinet nor receive a security clearance. So there is that.

Edited: Apr 22, 2019, 1:09am Top

39. White by Bret Easton Ellis

This is mild in comparison to the publicity about the book. I can say this because I have not read American Psycho. Actually when he refers to his boyfriend's reactions to politics, he can be quite funny.

Move on and give the guy a break.

Apr 22, 2019, 1:08am Top

Humbled and unworthy, is my reaction from just having read the Introduction only to the just released book by Robert Caro called simply " Working. "

If you love books, get yourself to this.

Apr 22, 2019, 4:28pm Top

>49 Forthwith: Ha, when the Kindle people figure out how to make that lovely, soft rustle of a turning page with the barest whiff of vanillin from aging acidic pages, Amazon will truly Rule The World.

I'm afraid ear-reading is impossible for me. I fall asleep within ten minutes. It's a refreshing, deep sleep, but hardly what I signed up for when I got the book.

Mayor Pete and Chasten are lovely guys! Compared to 45, he's Cincinnatus. I question how ready he is to tangle with Congress. Some time in a legislature, and I'll be out beating drums for his candidacy.

>50 Forthwith: I'm not his biggest fan, but that book tempts me.

>51 Forthwith: Haven't heard of it! I loved The Power Broker. Thanks for the tip.

Apr 22, 2019, 4:56pm Top

40. Working by Robert Caro

"I am quite aware that I may never get to write the memoir, although I have so many thoughts about writing, so many anecdotes about research, that I would like to preserve for anyone interested enough to read them. I decided that, just in case, I’d put some of them down on paper now."

With those words concluding his introduction, Mr. Caro provides some previously published materials from the likes of The New York Times, Harpers, and, of course, The Paris Review writer interview. With these nicely edited pieces which generally avoid duplication he adds new writing. There are moving recollections of his research and personal interviews. These are memorable indeed.

He often rightly credits Mrs. Ina Caro for her deep dedication to his writing projects. She even sold their house for needed funds to continue to write. He tells that he writes fast!

Imagine a Caro book with just over 200 pages. At age 83 and still years away from his fifth and final? Johnson study of political power, he paused just enough to share this highly valuable collection.

If you like history, the study of power or just great writing, get this one read.

Edited: Nov 16, 2019, 11:43pm Top

Go ahead and check the attic and take your dustcloth. You might find a copyof this wonderful book to read at your pleasure.

41. The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

Well if Orson Welles found it worthy to tell this story in film by some of his Mercury Players, it might make a delightful Sunday read. Indeed it does. Living in Tarkington's home city for a number of years, I know the neighborhood of which he speaks: Woodruff Place is the Amberson Addition.

Here are contemporary photographs.

This is meant to be a slow but not so light read. Take all of the time that you need. We'll be waiting patiently for you.

Apr 24, 2019, 6:25pm Top

>54 Forthwith: Beat ya! My mama was a Tarkington fan and raised me on him. Penrod was first up. Love his writing.

Apr 24, 2019, 7:45pm Top

>55 richardderus:. Every September is the Penrod Arts Fair at the Indianapolis Art Museum grounds. We have attended several times. Have you been there?

Apr 24, 2019, 9:22pm Top

No, I've never been to Indianapolis. Somehow or another it's an entire state I've driven through out of Chicago and from Kentucky into the deep southern parts to a big ol' resort. But the middle? Never.

Apr 29, 2019, 1:38am Top

42. Everything In It's Place: First Loves and Last Tales by Oliver Sacks

This is the new collection from the gentleman scientist released after his death. It still saddens me to think about how much we have lost.

He writes of his childhood love of science. The story about the cuttlefish is riotous. He tells us that he actually was able to spend the night in the museum with his flashlight.

His abbreviated case studies of patients with various neurological problems are as fascinating as our wide human nature can fathom.

If you are anything like me and just cannot grasp chemistry, you will pause, read again and just accept the mystery of it all.

When science needs serious scholars who can write with grace and clarity for the general public, his loss to us is profound.

May 7, 2019, 5:24pm Top

43. Alexander Hamilton Laphams Quarterly

This seems to offer a counter to the adoration of the Hamilton musical on Broadway and now touring. Since we are scheduled to attend finally the touring performance, I thought that this might be a good time to read this. We were originally scheduled for last year but the theater inconveniently caught on fire a few days before our journey. The irony of a Puerto Rican native extolling Hamilton is a point for discussion by those with knowledge that I do not have.

The apparent irony is "...proof of the proposition (advanced by Herodotus, attested by Gibbon) that history is not what happened 200 or 2,000 years ago; it is a story of what happened 200 or 2,000 years ago."

Lewis Lapham in the Preamble

Now, off to Chicago - the band concert that is.

Edited: May 14, 2019, 3:48pm Top

I was just reading in an AARP (don't use the word retirement) newsletter that grandparents may average over $4,000 in support for their grandchildren a year. With stagnant wages and increased costs for basics especially medicine and educational expenses, young people are caught in a vice.

44. Don't Knock the Hustle: Young Creatives, Tech Ingenuity, and the Making of a New Innovation Economy by S. Craig Watkins

This book nicely balances many personal interviews with these young people and the many grim statistics of struggling to get a start in work that can actually pay some basic bills. It looks at technical creative uses as well as the struggles of artists particularly hip-hop artists trying to make some kind of living.

The focus especially in later Chapters is on Women, Black and Latino struggles. Very encouraging are the several commendable organizations for young independent, creative young people to encourage and rely on the expertise of each other.

Each Chapter seems to be almost independent essays and some editing for repetitions and rehashing of points already addressed would be helpful.

There was no mention of professional help by my own field of compensation, benefits and human resources. Because the individuals cited are largely independent of a large supporting organization, they escape many regulations and the attention to their needs. The unfortunate part is that their independence brings medical and retirement savings outside their reach for long term needs. Of course, a very few achieve either vast riches from their own inventiveness or being picked up by a large organization with robust benefits. I fear that this group of young people are being left out and it will be so very difficult to catch up with basic financial needs.

45. Against Venice by Regis Debray

This is an unusual individual look at Venice unfavorably compared to Naples. The author tries to tone it down a bit in the Afterword as satire but that is unconvincing. The writer is natural rebel and spent some time in prison as a Che Guevara fighter in Bolivia. With so many books of praise from John Ruskin and a wealth of writing talent, a contrarian view is a tiny counter view with limited equivalence.

46. Loving Venice by Petr Kral

So take that Regis Debray.

This draws pictures at a walk. Like the writer, I also have appreciated the musicians playing outside at the Café Florian in the Piazza San Marco. To defray the chilly air as the sun set, the waiter earned great praise by bring out the best hot chocolate that can be imagined. Then the musicians regrouped inside and the party really commenced.

47. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

I wonder why I now chose this novel of a totalitarian society. Hmmm.

In the essay by the late Ursula Le Guin (used as an Introduction for this particular illustrated edition), she describes this book as "a romantic, imaginative, intelligent, powerful, and beautiful book - perhaps the finest science fiction novel ever written."

As someone who is skeptical about this whole genre but knowing that there must be something that I am missing, why not start with the best? It has been many years since I was intrigued with "A Stranger in a Strange Land". That may have been a 1960s requirement.

The author's own story is compelling. As a Russian jailed for his participation in the Revolution of 1905 and after being sent as a engineer to England he returned to Russia.

It seemed to drag a bit at first and seemed like I had read it before, but I came on alert with Chapter 20. There are 40 Chapters (called Records) in the book). All of the previous Chapters built up with this crescendo to my perhaps overly political antenna. Then, he lets loose with Chapter 20.

"Look here - suppose you let a drop fall on the idea of 'rights.' Even among the ancients the more grown-up knew that the source of right is power, that right is a function of power. So, take some scales and put on one side a gram, on the other a ton; on one side 'I' and on the other 'We,' OneState. It's clear isn't it? - to assert that 'I' has certain 'rights' with the respect to the State is exactly the same as asserting that a gram weighs the same as a ton."

"Forget you're a gram and feel yourself a millionth of a ton."

In the next paragraph, he continues in part:

"...there's no difference between a woman who gave birth illegally -O- and a murderer, and that madman who dared aim his poem at the OneState. And the verdict is the same for then all: premature death. This is the very same divine justice dreamt of by the people of the stone-house age, illuminated by the rosy naïve rays of the dawn of history. Their 'God' punished abuse of Holy Church exactly the same as murder."

I am putting a lot of trust in this translation from the Russian by Clarence Brown.

It is past time for a new modern full cinematic treatment.

May 13, 2019, 7:17pm Top

Hmmm, I need to look into #47...

May 14, 2019, 3:46pm Top

>62 drneutron: The reason that the first few chapters seemed like I had read it before is that so any have taken from it. It was before Orwell and an original for 1922.
This was the first book to have been banned in Russia.

May 14, 2019, 6:12pm Top

Teacup? Check
Tea? Sassafras at the ready

48. Two Stories by Mark Haddon & Virginia Woolf

Published in 2017 by Hogarth Press in honor of the centenary of such.

From Virginia Woolf's first printed story from the Press "The Mark on the Wall"

"And the novelists in future will realise more and more the importance of these reflections, for of course there is not one reflection but an almost infinite number; those are the depths they will explore, those the phantoms they will pursue, leaving the description of reality more and more out of their stories, taking a knowledge of it for granted, as the Greeks did and Shakespeare perhaps; but these generalisations are very worthless."

and naturally following with:

49. A Boy at the Hogarth Press and A Parcel of Time by Richard Kennedy

A young lad of 16 gets under the hair of Leonard Woolf at the Hogarth Press and lives to tell the tale.

May 27, 2019, 4:28pm Top

50. The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West by David McCullough

I read this as a part of my own family present and history. Now living and n the banks of the mighty Ohio River and hearing the many barges and other river traffic all through the day and night in a settlement founded in 1803, and remembering my direct ancestors who were part of the early settlement of what later became Ohio, this seems personal.

Edited: May 27, 2019, 6:21pm Top

51. Voltaire: A Lecture by Robert Ingersoll

This was read from the book as published in 1895 by C. P. Farrell. The author warns us that other versions not from this imprint "are spurious, grossly inaccurate, filled with mistakes, horribly printed, and outrageously unjust to me."

Got that Buster?

This lecture book alone justified Ingersoll's statue in Peoria, IL.

Edited: Jun 5, 2019, 4:26pm Top

52. How to Read a Book and Why by Harold Bloom

"Esau was a hairy man but I am a smooth one."
Beyond the Fringe

I listened to the audio as read by the author. He covers poetry, short stories and novels and laments the rise of the visual surpassing reading. He has strong opinions and can be off-putting. The selections of works are not too surprising. His descriptions of the works do not necessarily compel a listener to pursue the works.

Jun 5, 2019, 4:26pm Top

53. Deadwood's Al Swearingen: Manifest Evil in the Gem theatre by Jerry L. Bryant and Barbara Fifer

This is a must for any fans of HBO's Deadwood series and recent film and anyone interested in lore of the west. It centers around Deadwood and the many characters documented in area newspapers and records. The book includes two photographs that likely picture Swearingen and other fascinating photographs of Deadwood. The characters are lively and tragic but represent the real wild west.

The late Mr. Bryant was trained as an archeologist but became a local historian interested in researching and documenting the history of Deadwood especially the elusive Al Swearingen. He was a consultant for the HBO series. Before his death he turned his material over to Ms. Fifer for compiling and completing this book.

Jun 7, 2019, 7:57pm Top

54. This America: The Case For the Nation by Jill Lepore

This is the latest book from the historian who recently released the acclaimed history of the United States. Is this best described as revisionist, corrected or history from a broader minority viewpoint? I listened to the audio book which she read herself. I would recommend listening rather than reading to experience the disdain and sarcasm dripping in the book from her voice especially when referencing the President.

This is appearing from, I sense, a need to correct the historical record as she sees it. It seems urgent and newsworthy like an extended Op-Ed from today's newspaper.

A few points that I noted that she raised:
The book traces the history and dangers of nationalism which originated from the French Revolution.
She distinguishes patriotism (good, positive) from nationalism (bad, negative).
We were founded as a confederation of unique States with little reference to becoming a nation. We are more of a State/Nation rather than a Nation State.
One of the first who tried to create a sense of nation was Webster when he tried to impose a new American English (favor instead of Favour).
It used to be stated "the United States ARE" instead of "The United States IS."
She took on the related topic of immigration and noted the battle to keep from excluding Chinese immigrants to be protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Jun 8, 2019, 5:14pm Top

55. Simple Wealth, Inevitable Wealth by Nick Murray

It is that time for me to revisit some fundamentals. This is the 20th Anniversary Edition of this book that was just released.

Oh, how could I have convinced so many of my participants that their 401(k) is not a convenient way to save for that large screen TV. Many treated it like a Christmas Club and thus paying taxes and penalties joyfully.

Speaking with the caretaker of the largest database of 401(k) investments, tells us that we are riding into the future with little thought. Someone else will take care of me. We have a predictable crises soon to come.

It is amazing how many employees deny themselves a raise by ignoring their employer's matching contributions.

Oh, I could go on and on.

Jun 13, 2019, 12:12am Top

56. The Dictionary Wars by Peter Martin

It is an entertaining look back at the attempt to formally separate American English from the British Johnson Dictionary. It was quite a battle.

Jun 16, 2019, 12:55pm Top

I may be the last person but I finally saw the play "Hamilton." It was like an Andrew Lloyd Webber show but without music. Anyway, the reference of the reading of Hamilton at the time of the duel in this article was fascinating.


Jul 13, 2019, 10:43pm Top

Hope all is well Michael and that you'll have a great weekend.

Jul 14, 2019, 3:32pm Top

Thank you Paul. It is a hot weekend with a serious air quality issue.

Jul 14, 2019, 3:54pm Top

57. This America: The Case For the Nation by Jill Lapore

This is sort of a series of essays about the dismissal of the study of the nation's history as a contributor of the present rise of nationalism and the influx of immigrants as seen from many angles. It was disappointing in the limited topic. I listened to her own reading of the full book.
I just very recently saw the work in the fields of California as workers bent over continuously in the very hot temperatures to pick food for our salads as I was listening to this book. Thankfully there are people who have the stamina to fill those trucks with cucumbers and other foods.

58. Chase Darkness With Me by Billy Jensen

This was just noted by the popular British newspaper "The Guardian" as one of the best audio books so far of the year. The author serves as his own reader and the sincerity is obvious. He started as a stronger for The New York Times and felt strongly about the need to actually try to solve the mysteries of actual terrible crimes instead of writing descriptions alone. This is a remarkable listen for the true crime genre and highly recommended.

Jul 14, 2019, 4:03pm Top

After returning from a remarkable journey through the western United States I return to steady ground - for now anyway. The journey offered a very close 7.1 earthquake in a 54 story building that never seemed to stop. within a short time 600 aftershocks were charted. The very loud cracking and crashing sound of the glass exterior walls and the immediate screeching of sirens was not too dissimilar to my previous experience of a direct hit from a tornado. This adds to my experience of getting caught on foot in a swampy area in a flash flood preceding hurricane Hugo in Magnolia Gardens as well as an earlier home fire. For your safety, I will try to avoid your own home location in the future.

Jul 14, 2019, 7:48pm Top

>76 Forthwith: >76 Forthwith: Great goddesses below us! I've lived through earthquakes, they're terrifying, so I have the greatest sympathy for your nightmare. I'm glad you're safe, and please give me at least a week's warning if you should be heading to New York City.

Jul 14, 2019, 8:44pm Top

I was just there this past October and plan to be there November 2020. No weather events are planned - are there??

Jul 14, 2019, 8:51pm Top

November 2020 will bring hot-air hurricanes and gales of BS, but no weather model has the cojones to offer a forecast that far out. Yet.

Jul 14, 2019, 8:57pm Top

59. Cannery Road by John Steinbeck

As a Steinbeck fan and presuming that the Great American Novel was already written (The Grapes of Wrath) I with much shame finally just finished Steinbeck's Cannery Road stimulated by a recent trip to Monterey. Below are a couple of snapshots that I took there. The Road is now officially called Cannery Road in recognition. It is not new information that this is quite an entertaining read and shows the wit that Steinbeck shares. Certainly, The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden films will not air on Comedy Central. I will soon be headed to the hometown of James Dean and need to do a rereading of East of Eden yet again. We passed close to the site of his fatal car crash a few days ago.

Jul 14, 2019, 8:59pm Top

I spent my first six years in Los Gatos, and visited the area through 1992 when I said "nope, no more." I don't care for Cali. Monterey is a pretty town, and MBARI is amazing for the work they do, and Cannery Row is a terrific book, and Steinbeck's home in Salinas is cool.

Jul 17, 2019, 8:40pm Top

60. The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis

This is the first of the three autobiographical novels from the 26 year old French writing sensation. He changed the names and places but says that this is the truth although his mother has indicated otherwise. It is about class, he tells us. He has turned his anger into becoming an activities for social justice. The yellow jackets movement is really about being noticed. They want to go longer be ignored by the wide social class gap. After a significant struggle he changed his name officially and is no longer Eddy.

Jul 18, 2019, 3:16pm Top

61. A Guest at the Feast: A Memoir by Colm Toibin

This is a wonderful collection of personal reflections by the great contemporary Irish writer. I listened to his own reading.

The section on the forgotten composer Frederick May is hauntingly beautiful.

Now, I want to go again to Ireland.

Jul 24, 2019, 5:26pm Top

62. The Mueller Report by Robert Mueller III

Maybe my most important read for the year.

Jul 25, 2019, 11:37pm Top

63. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

This is an excellent new book by the writer of the acclaimed book Underground Railroad. The characters are fictional but this important book is grounded by the story of the scandal of the Reform School in Florida. This is set in the 1960s of growing up black.

Edited: Jul 30, 2019, 2:13am Top

64. Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know: The Fathers of Wilde, Yeats and Joyce by Colm Toibin

Now, this is a grand book; in fact brilliant.

How could you go wrong by looking at the lives of the fathers of these three men? Well, it could have been "bookchat" and boring. It could have been theoretical and even Freudian, heaven help us.

This was a lyrical literary book. Each of these three fathers could easily captivate a reader even without ah, those three sons.

If a book begs you to crave more, here it is.

Aug 4, 2019, 1:16am Top

>85 Forthwith: Colson Whitehead is becoming quite a force in American literature with two humdingers in a row. The US needs a new "Lion of Letters" so it is good to see him emerge from the pack.

Have a great weekend, Michael.

Aug 4, 2019, 6:35pm Top

I agree. He’s at the top of my “read anything he writes” list.

Aug 7, 2019, 2:51pm Top

65. Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business and Life by Rory Sutherland

This is actually great fun. If you like an interesting and outrageous lunch companion, you could take this along.
In psychology, we talk about rationalizing. After a strange act that we could not explain, we go back and insert our explanation.

We are indeed more irrational than we like to admit. The author argues that it is an evolutionary advantage. The hare does not always plan an escape route that would give clues to the pursuer. It just runs with some creative zigs and an unpredictable zag for good measure.

Just watch any television commercial knowing that you are being manipulated. You still may catch yourself retroactively finding that the most obnoxious commercial, in fact, worked. Why did I buy that "energy" drink at the gas station anyway? As I try to get that taste out of my mouth, I actually start to question my rationality and that can be uncomfortable. Why did I buy that? Honestly, I don't yet know.

In a way, you may read this book and have the same private uncomfortable reaction. Now, why did I finish this anyway? Is the writer trolling us - just a bit?

Aug 10, 2019, 8:49pm Top

66. The Playboy of the Western World and Other Plays: The Complete Plays by J. M. Synge

This was a mix of the classic tragedy and comedy Plays including the infamous one that caused so much turmoil at its premier at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.
I did not so much read the plays as listened to the words speaking to me from the page. It was almost like an audio book but more easy to understand, surely himself.

It had:
The Playboy of the Western World
Riders to the Sea
In the Shadow of the Glen
The Tinker's Wedding
Deidre of the Sorrows
The Well of the Saints

Oh my grief, I've lost him surely. I've lost the only Playboy of the Western World.

(p. 40)

Isn't it a small thing is foretold about the ruin of ourselves, Naisi, when all men have age coming and great ruin in the end?

(p. 85)

She goes out singing "The night before Larry was stretched."

Synge, J. M.. The Playboy of the Western World and Other Plays (The Complete Plays of J. M. Synge) (p. 68). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

Aug 12, 2019, 1:18am Top

67. Billie Holiday: The Last Interview Introduction by Khanya Mtshali

The book with the exception of an Introduction is a collection of several interviews with jazz vocalist known as Billie Holiday. Interviews include one that was never revealed until several years after her death because it was assumed that she was under some kind of drug influence. One interview was done by Mike Wallace from his Dumont Television network days. Yes, it does have the final interview taken about two days before she died in the hospital with the police at the ready to arrest her if she recovered.

I am not a fan generally of interviews because too much importance is given to some spontaneous comments. These can be of some interest but with the damper running.

This is one of many recently published books under "The Last Interview" series.

68. Faces On the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano

This is a novel in the form of a number of short stories connected and yet distant. The setting is rural France. The writer starts off brilliantly and ends with seemingly unconnected ruminations. This book seems to call out for a second read. As the wooden puzzle in one story, the interconnected pieces are sometimes subtle.

Sentences like these are in the first few pages:
"I was the lake's favorite."
"I pick out the edge pieces first, always start with the edge pieces, and it's then that I find a few hairs among the pieces, hairs lost among cardboard sections of branches, hairs the color of her eight or ninth year."

The book was just released a few days ago in English translation from the French done by Jennifer Hughes and Sophie Lewis. The translator's notes indicate that this English edition is shorter than the French edition. They assure the reader that they collaborated with the author and emphasized the connections between the stories. I am uneasy about this.

This is part of a subscription series from Peirene Press ("literary cinema" Times Literary Supplement) with a small portion of the purchase going to Basmeh & Zeitooneh - a charitable group for Syrian refugees. The cover letter from the Publisher asks the reader to "read it in one go." At least, I read it in one day interspersed with the book mentioned above.

Aug 14, 2019, 4:47pm Top

69. The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell's 1984 by Dorian Lynskey as read by Andrew Wincott

This takes a wide look at the history of dystopian literature using George Orwell's 1984 as an anchor. This could have easily been an easy excuse for hysteria or despair but the writer is too intelligent and honest to go down that easy street.

H. G. Wells in particular gets an extensive segment. He nor Orwell are described uncritically.

Part Two of the book looks at the continuing effects of the book after Orwell's death.

If you still think that a book matters and you are interested in the interplay of literature and governance, I highly recommend this. With the age of "alternate facts" and "fake news" seeming to prevail, I would not wait too long to give this your attention while there are still a few claiming that 2 + 2 equals 4.

Aug 16, 2019, 8:06pm Top

70. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

As a survivor of four concentration camps and a psychiatrist, Frankl had a profound sense of survival. His chances of survival, he says, in the camps was one out of twenty-eight. I have known and spoken to two survivors who had very different ways to live after their liberation. Frankl chose to continue his professional studies and practice as a major third branch of psychiatry.

The first part of this book recounts his own experiences and internal recollections. Then he discusses the need to search for a meaning and his own brand of therapy. Interestingly, yesterday, the newsman, Anderson Cooper was moved by the remarks of television host Stephen Colbert when he discussed dealing with family tragedy. He spoke of suffering as a part of existence and that we should be grateful for existing. This is very close indeed to the teachings of Frankl.

I read this book many years ago and thought that it needed a reread. I was right about that.

Do not partake to the audio version since the academic citations are read to some annoyance made pointedly by the reader. Insert a joke at each instance


71. The Oxford Companion to Ulysses by various academic writers

In trepidation, I am looking at a beautiful edition of Ulysses. Just having seen the film "Nora" about Mrs. James Joyce is hardly ample preparation so here I am.

Academics to some amusement have assumed the responsibility to tell us what is going on here. They do look a bit silly taking this on but maybe they have something to say. After all, Freud liked to analyze jokes.

Actually, I found this collection nicely organized and fairly readable complete with many notes/references in the guise of seriousness. It is organized by the Editor of the James Joyce Quarterly and really quite a worthwhile reading companion.


The To Be Read stack is not getting any lighter as accessibility to literature and tripe is in abundance and so readily available. The front porch is a busy place for deliveries. Maybe it is time to read some secondary non-collectable books so I can then give them away in good conscience and make room for the incoming forward passes.

Aug 24, 2019, 5:45pm Top

72. The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism in Un-American by Andrew Seidel

This is deliberately a provocative book to challenge a movement of Christian Nationalism. The current Netflix documentary series "The Family" is one manifestation of the movement.

Seidel uses the most basic foundations of the United States as well as the Ten (or however many) Commandments to contrast the underlying and stated assumptions. Although, he uses his experience with preparing legal briefs, he occasionally interjects more passionate comments. The writing is certainly not dry.

The citations of many original historical documents and lively interesting bits make this quite an intriguing read.

I highly recommend a reading of this by a wide readership.

Sep 11, 2019, 5:38pm Top

73. The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski

Read this book only if you find some need to delve into one horror after another in an unnamed Eastern Block country during WWII. It follows a child through imagined(?) horrors. It stands now as fiction but the damaged imagination of the late author haunts every page.

For some reason a film of this book has been made and is causing quite an unpleasant stir from viewers. I am concerned about the effects that this would have on a child actor. We always turn our revulsion toward protecting someone else. We can always read something like this with little effect but for others not so much.

Sep 15, 2019, 7:52pm Top

74. Alexander the Great: His Life and Mysterious Death by Anthony Everitt

This is another worthy read by Anthony Everitt. The subject is given a worthy review.

I am almost through the epic restored Alexanderplatz series of videos directed by Fassbinder. It very closely follows the book. Fassbinder claimed that he almost had the book committed to memory. I haven't yet seen his controversial final episode.

Sep 22, 2019, 2:29am Top

75. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

This is a slow literary read with many similes causing pauses for reflexion. A Catholic background would be helpful for a reading. This is thought to be Greene's masterpiece.

When starting this, I paused for the films "The Third Man" and "Our Man in Havana."

Sep 22, 2019, 7:55am Top

Congratulations on reaching 75, Michael!

Sep 22, 2019, 12:06pm Top

Thanks. I slowed down for some books that called out for reflection on a turn of a phrase. The Graham Greene book certainly was filled with such stimulation.

76. Who Says That You're Dead by Jacob M. Appel, MD

This is a pre-publication Early Reviewers book.
I advise anyone who thinks that there is nothing new in the world to sit up and take notice. You will find, as I did, that you must talk to someone right now as you go through this book. You may badger friends with presenting these medical ethical dilemmas. A dilemma not listed in the book may be the effects on your relationship with your spouse or significant other. You will feel a need to interrupt whatever they may be doing to fulfill your sudden need to share what you just read.
This presents systematically many modern medical dilemmas generally brought on by our medical advancements and endless ways to apply our misbehavior to our lives.
With a lengthy waiting list to receive a donated kidney, who should be next on the recipient list? Should a celebrity sports figure be next? Should someone without insurance be next? Should someone on death row be next or on the list at all?
You get the picture.
This presents one after another issue that (we hope) drive discussions in the Doctor's lounge.
The requirements to read this book are having a working brain with a modem of curiosity.
On your mark, get set.

Sep 22, 2019, 9:51pm Top

Congrats on zipping past the goal!

Sep 23, 2019, 11:43am Top

>100 drneutron: Thanks! I am glad that I got on the zipline.

Oct 9, 2019, 1:18am Top

77. Turkey: A Short History by Norman Stone

With the developing story about Turkey and the Kurds and ISIS, I sought out some history about Turkey and I am glad that I found this really engaging book by acclaimed historian Norman Stone. This is about 200 pages of fascinating content. I need to take a look at his WWI book and history of Hungary also. I found the book to be riveting and great background for the current controversy. I especially enjoyed his look at the language development. So that is where kiosk came from.

78. Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars by Scotty Bowers

After a recent trip that included looking at the Hollywood Stars on their pavement; a comment from a friend who reported for many years from Los Angeles, along with a recent visit to Fairmont, IN to visit the James Dean Museum, I wanted the lowdown and I got it here.

79. History of Violence by Edouard Louis

This is the second of three books that created an international sensation especially in his home country of France. For a translated work, it works very well in English. It is tough reading but somehow transcends into modern literature.

80. Who Killed my Father by Edouard Louis

This is the third of the three books so far. It builds into a call. This makes no pretense of being fictionalized. Names are named.

Oct 9, 2019, 7:20pm Top

>97 Forthwith: Congratulations, Michael! This is a wonderful read to break the 75-books-read barrier.

Oct 10, 2019, 9:55am Top

>102 Forthwith: The book about Turkey sounds good, I will look for it.
I have read two ther books by Edouard Louis, I have History of violence on the wishlist.

Oct 10, 2019, 9:13pm Top

>104 FAMeulstee: Put your seatbelt on for more from Louis and Norman Stone's clarity of writing. The Louis books are best in their sequence: Eddy, Violence: and the passionate and non-fiction Who Killed My Father. Note that that last title does not end with a question mark.

>103 richardderus: Thanks! I do like a variety of works.

It looks like 100+ books are not n line for this year. I have several burning to be read including a new signed book from Rachel Maddow and a just received limited edition Rosemary's Baby and a new limited edition Dracula.

Spooky, they all are.

Oct 11, 2019, 10:27pm Top

Belated congratulations, Michael, on passing 75 already.

>97 Forthwith: Not one of my favourite Greene books although he probably remains near the top of my list of favourite authors and I think I have read all his work - except the two early discarded novels.

My favourite book of his is probably The Quiet American.

Have a splendid weekend.

Edited: Oct 13, 2019, 12:51pm Top

>106 PaulCranswick: Thanks. I need to read The Quiet American for sure.

81. The Flanders Road by Claude Simon

Written originally in French the 1985 Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Claude Simon, from Madagascar, writes under the nouveau roman license (wider than even 007). Prepare for sentences that may last for pages. Don't look at me. Proust and Faulkner got us into this.

Actually, I found that silently sounding our the words as with free-form poetry and varying the pace helped to get through this. In a way, I found that this is Bob Dylan-like. The Academy likes him as we know and I like Dylan so...

What is certitude? time? a period? I don't know. Oh, there is one - a period (and another).

Words Words Words

Oct 13, 2019, 10:49pm Top

>107 Forthwith: Words Words Words

That's the Simon I know and love! The Acacia possibly best of all. No, Triptych with its sad echoes and loud ripostes that come before or even during the exciting event. Yeah. That one.

Oct 14, 2019, 12:04pm Top

>I was able to get a good used paperback published in 1985 by the Riverrun Press in the US (John Calder in the UK). The translation is by Richard Howard. I can only imagine the difficulty of translation and punctuation challenges to help this make sense.

I found limited English translations of his work.

I would imagine that the Faulkner readers would find his writing of interest. I visited Faulkner's home and got a behind the tourist ropes look. His pencil marks of phone numbers by the wall phone in the kitchen area are still there. He famously wrote phrases on his bedroom wall which is the tourist highlight. Standing in his back kitchen and wandering around outside was moving. An local elderly lady came in who remembered talking to him in the local grocery store. She recalled him as being sociable. She said that she was struck by the intensity of his gaze.

Oct 14, 2019, 1:05pm Top

>109 Forthwith: I can imagine the intensity of Faulkner's gaze...yikes...enough to make one quail, fearful of being the next Snopes!

I can certainly see that translating the peculiarities of Claude Simon would give an English-speaker mental hernias.

Oct 17, 2019, 3:35pm Top

82. The Marquise of O- by Heinrich Von Kleist

Think of this as a pre #MeToo German style non-romance. A favorite of Kafka but not a favorite of mine.

83. An Untouched House by Willem Frederik Hermans

If you're happy and you know it, put this book down.

Edited: Oct 18, 2019, 7:40pm Top

84. It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America by David Cay Johnston

This book published last year is timely as we prepare to witness a likely impeachment.

Oct 18, 2019, 9:16pm Top

>111 Forthwith: #83 LOL

>112 Forthwith: Sooner = better.

Nov 1, 2019, 11:46am Top

85. False Papers by Andre Aciman

This is a wistful personal set of memories.

"We are driven by something as simple and as obvious as the desire to be happy, and, if that fails, by the belief that we once have been."

"Here I would come to remember not so much the beauty of the past as the beauty of remembering, realizing that just because we love to look back doesn’t mean we love the things we look back on. "

I read this while listening to Bach's Double Concerto during the Chapter on the private tour of the Proust home. Of course, it was The Academy of Ancient Music recording.

Nov 16, 2019, 11:43pm Top

I just visited the Biltmore House and took some pictures during their candlelight event. George Vanderbilt personally selected the over 22,000 books. You can try and reference this home library if it helps to explain to your significant other why you have so many books. I tried but it didn't help. BTW, the library chess set belonged to Napolean. The last picture was taken in the smoking room.

Nov 19, 2019, 7:09am Top

>115 Forthwith: WOW, just wow!
Luckely my significant other agrees on having many books, he is also a book-collector. We only lack the matching house... ;-)

Nov 19, 2019, 10:32am Top

The pictures of the library were taken at night with the light coming from candles and the roaring fireplace. They understandably do not allow flash photography. The picture of the smoking room was taken along with many others with the natural light of the following day.

Here is a picture of the staircase.

Nov 19, 2019, 6:32pm Top

86. The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea by Yukio Mishima

Old Japan vs. Post WWII Japan

Edited: Nov 25, 2019, 11:50am Top

87. A Warning by Anonymous

Actually, not much new here but it confirms, if you accept this as authentic, the usual perception. It is actually dull if you already have these assumptions.

So the Washington guessing game just focused.


Nov 25, 2019, 1:17pm Top

>115 Forthwith: Oh, Biltmore...one of the most beautiful places I've ever been in my life. I loved re-experiencing it through those photos.

>118 Forthwith: A book that made me love Mishima's elegiac anger.

>119 Forthwith: Ugh.

Nov 27, 2019, 6:10pm Top

The Vonnegut Museum has relocated and opened their new facility.

Dec 6, 2019, 7:20pm Top

88. The Emigrants by W. G. Sebald
89. I Will Find You by Lt. Det. Joe Kenda
90. God: The Most Unpleasant Character in Literature by Dan Barker,

The last two are not recommended for family holiday dinner conversation. Just pass the green beans in silence.

Dec 6, 2019, 10:23pm Top

>122 Forthwith: #88 isn't precisely the juiciest cranberry in the sauce, either.

Dec 7, 2019, 11:49pm Top

>122 Forthwith: Green beans and God and a Lt. Detective still looking. A triumvirate to be avoided for any weekend?!

Edited: Dec 9, 2019, 2:32pm Top

>123 richardderus: The sauce is a bit spicy.

>124 PaulCranswick: I would also avoid seeing "Knives Out" on any given weekend. It is quite a dull affair.

I pass the green beans on every occasion without pause at a rate exceeding even the dreaded peas.

I planned on some British literature next but I took a detour at Seventy-Two Virgins by Boris Johnson.

Dec 18, 2019, 1:07am Top

91. Letters From An Astrophysicist by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Whoa, I actually followed this one.

92. The Door in the Wall and Other Stories by H. G. Wells

This is a limited edition of the original with photography beautifully reproduced.

Dec 22, 2019, 1:20pm Top

93. Flights by Olga Takarczuk

This is what I would call a collection. It is like taking a recent stack of New Yorkers and giving them a cover to cover read.

Thoughts and prayers from this to you.

Dec 22, 2019, 1:22pm Top

Soviet Santa says "Happy Yule!" Solstice Greetings to you and all yours. Read more here: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/soviet-santa

Dec 25, 2019, 9:01pm Top

Thank you for keeping me company in 2019.......onward to 2020.

Dec 30, 2019, 10:07pm Top

94. A History of France by John Julius Norwich

This is an audio book read by the author which makes this quite special for his final book. This makes for a fine companion near your fireplace. It is intended for the general reader. This is fine company to keep.

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2019

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